Sunday, November 22, 2009

All About the Brontes Challenge 2010

Before there was Jane, there was Charlotte. Well, maybe not chronologically, just in my life. While as an adult my fixation has been everything Austen, as a teenager I was all about the Brontes. I read and reread Villette, dramatically relishing the heartbreak every time (very Marianne Dashwood-like, I was such a drama queen and loved to wallow). At sixteen, I could truly relish "the happiness of such misery, or the misery of such happiness." So after some deep reflection, I have decided to use this forum to join the All About the Brontes Challenge 2010 on Laura's Reviews. The thing is, this is supposed to be a place to exclusively contemplate Austen. In order to rationalize my participation I intend to tie all my Bronte postings back to Austen, somehow or other. This isn't strictly complying with the rules of the challenge but, as long as I still provide a review of the Bronte related items I consume, I don't think it's too out of line. Let's just pray this doesn't turn into a series of rants about passion.

This brings me to the question of what to read (or watch). I have read all the Bronte texts before, including the juvenilia, and have absolutely no interest in rereading either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. I've never read any Bronte fan fiction (wait a minute - I did read The Wide Sargasso Sea years ago at the recommendation of a teacher - not repeating that one) so feel I would need to do quite a bit of research before learning what, in that genre, is most worthwhile. It's not like Austen, where I am willing to read almost everything: if I am to read Bronte fan fic I want it to be the best. At this stage, I am willing to commit to the following reviews, with the intention of adding in some fan fiction and maybe a movie or two later:

1) Villette (for old times sake)
2) Shirley
3) The Professor (which I had totally forgotten about)
4) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
5) Agnes Grey

So now I need to go find my copies of these books and hope against hope that they aren't completely filled with totally embarrassing notes and insights from my youth (which they most certainly are as I used to write incessantly in the margins). Maybe I need to go buy new copies to prevent this experience from being polluted by dismay at my childish scribblings.


  1. See, I only read Jane Eyre, and nothing I've read about Wuthering Heights or any other Bronte sister's novels have made me even slightly interested in others. That's not to say I don't recognize the towering talent of Charlotte, but I also notice a slight towering ego and self-indulgence that go along with it.

    That said, I rather enjoyed the 2006 miniseries - mostly because Rochester wasn't as evil.

    What do you think of Dickens, Gaskell, or Eliot?

  2. George Eliot is one of my absolute favorite writers ever. Everything she wrote is fabulous, though my personal favorite is Daniel Deronda. I enjoy much of Dickens (still a few of his books that I haven't read, need to get on that sometime) though I'm not super obsessed with him as people tend to be. Gaskell is a mixed bag - I enjoyed her novels when I read them but never felt any desire to go back and revisit (though I have been considering it as of late). I'll tell you what I will definitely not be reading of hers is The Life of Charlotte Bronte which was so dry I could barely tolerate it (believe it or not I don't really enjoy reading about Austen's life either, though I do it anyway). I enjoy Wilkie Collins and just signed up to received The Woman in White in the original serialized form to commemorate the story's 150th anniversary. I'm also pretty crazy about the 19th century Russian novelists (in particular, Dostoevsky).

    The Brontes are pretty dark, exactly why they were so appealing when I was a teen. Those ladies were pretty sick and twisted, no doubt about that. I'm looking forward to revisiting the less hyped novels and seeing how I respond to them 15 years later. Little tentative about Anne's work though, as some of the truly sadistic imagery in these novels still kind of haunts me (since they are more realistic than the works of her sisters it seems all the more sinister). It will be a curious experiment.

  3. Hey - I don't enjoy reading Austen bios either - even the good ones, not just trash like Spence's Becoming Jane Austen. I do have Gaskell's bio of Bronte, but haven't read it.

    I've been discovering Dickens and Eliot for the past year, since Little Dorrit aired and I finally fell in love with the book (I'd previously hated Tale of Two Cities, though I enjoyed Oliver Twist and Christmas Carol). I'm currently wanting to read Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, and Nicholas Nickleby (yes, all of them have great films that I've seen - I am a terrible person). Eliot is similar - I am in the middle of Daniel Deronda and Middlemarch, and loving them - but the semester isn't really letting me work up the energy to finish them - oh, well, something to look forward to for break.

    Yup, still not terribly interested in the Brontes. Gaskell is sweet - and I love North and South and Wives and Daughters - but I do feel she's a significantly lesser artist than any of the greats (Austen, Dickens, Bronte, Eliot). Never really gotten into russian novels - translation really bugs me.

  4. I'm glad that you rationalized and decided to join the challenge!

    I always feel bad that there seems to be a feeling that people can't be lovers of both the Brontes and Austen. They wrote very different novels, but I love them all. I'm not sure why ibmiller thinks Charlotte had a towering ego . . . it seems the one quote from Charlotte about Jane Austen will haunt her for eternity. My friend Elina and I used to argue about it in high school!

    I'm glad to see Anne's books on your list. I'll be interested to read your reviews. I think she is forgotten too often. I love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and think it was a bold novel for the Victorian time period.

  5. To ibmiller -

    I completely feel your qualms about translation but as I have no talent for languages my hands are rather tied. Also, having studied classical texts, I've become kind of inured to it. A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite Dickens and yes, Eliot takes a huge amount of energy but boy is it worth it. I spent an entire of night of my honeymoon in Luxembourg crying hysterically over the last hundred or so pages of A Mill on the Floss, unable to put the book down until it was finished. I would wait to savor Eliot until you have the leisure to devote her your full attention. Her work is definitely best when read cover to cover. I envy you the opportunity to read these books for the first time.

    To Laura's Reviews -

    It's been so many years since I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and I must admit that the dominant image I retain of the story is that Helen Graham got her son drunk to give him a distaste for alcohol. I'm really looking forward to rereading her work after so many years. I too would like to find a consensus between Jane and Charlotte and am hoping this will give me the opportunity to stumble across something to mend old wounds. It's going to be great fun I'm sure. I particularly look forward to reading participants' reviews of fan fiction as I'm curious to learn what has been done in this area and read some for myself.

  6. My comment about Bronte's ego was not actually aimed at her anti-Austen comment - it was aimed at her (admittedly somewhat subtle) denigration of her sister's works, and the way she portrayed the character of Jane Eyre. I don't think it's impossible for Austen lovers to love Bronte or vice versa - but it does seem like it's not easy. And the comments by certain Bronte lovers about the results of the "most romantic hero" or whatever poll didn't help.

    I definitely want to experience Eliot to the fullest - the writing is so beautiful, and the characters so very rich. I still don't enjoy A Tale of Two Cities (the towel scene bugs me, and I find all the characters uninteresting - personal taste, not necessarily artistic judgement). I don't think I'll get past Deronda and Middlemarch this Christmas, as I have about 20 other books I want to read in a month (including the three Dickens), but I'm really hoping to finish at least thow two.

  7. I don't buy Mr. Rochester as the most romantic hero either. He cetainly doesn't hold a candle to Mr. Darcy. It says something rather sad about what woman typically want in a man when they swoon over the guy who isn't marriage material until he's been crippled.

    Relish Eliot. She's so wonderful.